14 November 2018

Wednesday, 10:45

CURRENCY

ZERO TOLERANCE?

The US decision to leave UNHRC weakens UN authority

Author:

01.07.2018

The United States withdrew from the UN Human Rights Council (HRO) claiming that the organisation was “a cesspool of political bias” and “a hypocritical and self-serving organisation that cares only about its own interests and makes a mockery of human rights.” This statement was made by the US Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley. US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said that the UN Human Rights Council undermines the national interests of the United States. The Wall Street Journal called the council “a deeply flawed institution” and its composition – “a gallery of rogue states”. WSJ notes that the members of UNHCR impede the investigation and publication of reports, as well as prevent calling and bringing to justice those who commit the most terrible atrocities. Also, the American side has claims regarding the actions of international human rights groups, which allegedly hinder the implementation of reforms inside HRC.

However, most of all, the current White House administration is outraged by “chronic anti-Israeli invective”, as Haley previously put it. According to Haley, the council, which uses its Agenda Item 7 targeting Israel unfairly by mandating that each session include a discussion of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has adopted more than 70 resolutions criticising Israel, does not even discuss the situation with human rights, for example , in Venezuela and has adopted only seven resolutions on Iran so far.

It is worth noting that American discontent with the council is not something new. In truth, the US became a member of UNHRC just three years after its establishment, while the Bush administration boycotted the council mainly for the same reasons as the Trump administration.

At the same time, the US insists that they continue defending human rights, which “Americans take for granted”, selflessly throughout the world. Haley also notes that the White House remains proud of American leadership in drafting the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948, and the US have been world leaders in this field since then. Washington also insists on reforming the HRC to make it “worthy” of American participation, and urges everyone to join them.

Despite such optimistic statements, the US decision caused a flurry of criticism and regrets all over the world. UN Secretary General António Guterres said that he would prefer if the US remained in the council. The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra'ad al-Hussein said he was disappointed but not surprised by Washington's decision. President of the UN General Assembly, Miroslav Lajčák, noted that international cooperation was needed to advance the human rights agenda in the world. Human rights organization HRW called President Trump's policy on human rights “one-dimensional”.

 

Beam in its own eye

It is noteworthy that the US decision was made against the backdrop of growing domestic and international criticism of the White House’s immigration policy separating families of illegal migrants, which has been in effect since early May and is known as “zero tolerance”. Usually, it takes only several months to solve the affairs of illegal immigrants, and under American law, children can be kept in camps for not more than 20 days. Therefore, those who illegally crossed the US-Mexican border were released under a pledge to appear at courts when summoned. Eventually, very few people fulfilled this promise. President Trump, however, decided that his country would not “become a camp for migrants and a refuge for refugees” and changed the rules. He was supported by the Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen, who stated that it was the migrants who put their children at risk when trying to cross the border illegally. As a result, about two thousand children found themselves in isolation centres, which are fenced and converted warehouses or supermarkets. According to the research organization ProPublica, the detainees are 4-10 year old children and naturally, their detention affects their physical condition, not to mention the emotional one.

These events have literally split the public of the United States, and most of the Americans do not like the suffering of children, of course. Trump's decision was even called “Trumpian Katrina” as a reference to hurricane Katrina that flooded New Orleans and Mississippi in 2005 and had a catastrophic impact on Bush's rating. First Lady Melania Trump poured oil on flames when she visited the children of migrants wearing a jacket with the phrase “I really don’t care, do u?” scrawled on the back. “Zero tolerance” policy even eclipsed the accusations that Trump's campaign headquarters cooperated with Russia. Recently, one can seldom see any mentioning in the media about this topic.

Finally, Trump had to retreat but he forced himself into a procedural trap trying not to offend the children but punish their parents and make them say goodbye to the “American dream”, not to mention the lost reputational points for himself and for the United States. After all, Washington's critics immediately recalled that despite positioning themselves as a champion in the protection of human rights, America has in fact faces many claims. Including in the field of racial discrimination, women's reproductive health, access to medical care for all segments of the population, death penalty and simply as the country with the largest number of prisoners.

 

On the wrong lane

In this context, the statement of some observers that with the US withdrawal from the HRC, the situation with global human rights will worsen even more and that UNHCR is losing its authority and moral significance is fair, albeit misinterpreted. The main problem lies not in the United States but in the fact that while the Universal Declaration of Human Rights emphasizes the principle of the universality of human rights, the situation is different because many people prefer dealing with human rights as they fit their own interests. Therefore, the US is not even a leader but simply is “one of them”.

Based in Geneva, the UNHCR was declared as an international human rights institution under the auspices of the United Nations and replaced the Commission on Human Rights. Currently, the council includes representatives from 47 countries (13 from Africa, 13 from Asia, 6 from Eastern Europe, 8 from Latin America, 7 from the Western world) elected for a three-year term. It is difficult not to agree with American discontent regarding the countries with a dubious reputation in the field of human rights as part of the HRC. It is much more difficult to come to terms on impartiality and criteria for selecting the judges.

The fact that even the United States does not hold up to the judicial status is not a reason for political dubiousness, although Washington's foes use it in this way. Rather, the ongoing events is a reason to think seriously about where and with what speed all the international system of relations approved after World War II is coming to.

It would seem that these are simple truths; for double, triple, etc. standards in human rights protection are unacceptable. It is unacceptable to punish certain states for years and to turn a blind eye to how others simply ignore UN resolutions, thereby violating the rights of hundreds of thousands of people, declared in various international documents. It is unacceptable to manipulate the principles of human rights to punish political opponents. Just as unacceptable is even the suspicion that human rights ideas can be used in political campaigns.

But in practice, we see something quite different. For example, one of the opinions widely discussed in social networks expresses an idea that the US withdrawal from the HRC by accusing it of anti-Israeli policies is in fact a tool for the Trump administration to eliminate Obama's political heritage and to consolidate the Jewish electorate. If this is true, then such goals, of course, are very far from protecting human rights.

Observers also point out that the decision of the White House to leave the HRO completely fits the consistent withdrawal of Americans from a number of international organizations, among which the most important one is the Paris Climate Agreement.

All these ultimately derail the UN even more severely, to which the HRC is a part and which was conceived as an international institution capable of uniting the efforts of all countries in building a just and free world, solving the most important political and socio-economic problems of mankind. In fact, the UN fails to fulfil its functions, and the human rights doctrine is good in theory and completely inapplicable in practice.

This was obvious since long ago, although the recent decision of the United States once again underlined the apparent fact. All accusations of Americans regarding the HRC and depending on the geopolitical situation can be repeated by any other state. Therefore, regardless of Washington's motives, the US is right that the UN institutions, until they finally and irrevocably compromised themselves, need profound reforms so much so that they deserve not only the participation of the US but of all other countries of the world.



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